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Chemist Testifies Low Levels of Chloroform Found in Trunk Samples

Defense attorney Jose Baez pounced on what he suggested was a possible inconsistency in the state’s case against Casey Anthony Tuesday morning when a forensic chemist testified that he only found low levels of chloroform in samples tested from Anthony’s trunk, while an expert on the stand Monday had called the chloroform levels “shockingly high.”

FBI forensic chemist Dr. Michael Rickenbach later explained that he would have expected any chloroform in the lining to volatize before he tested it because the trunk lining samples he received were not packaged in an air-tight container, so he was surprised to see any chloroform at all. Dr. Arpad Vass testified on Monday that the level of chloroform in the trunk carpet samples that his lab tested was the highest he had seen in 20 years of research.

Rickenbach stated Tuesday that residue of chloroform was found on some samples and chemicals “consistent with chloroform” were found on others, though in all cases it was in relatively small amounts. Under cross examination, he said that such low levels of chloroform could be found in many household cleaning products and potentially even in drinking water. He also explained that he used the term “consistent with chloroform” for samples where only one of two testing methods actually detected the compound.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Vass was recalled to the stand to correct an error by prosecutors. A can Vass identified while testifying Monday as the one that contained the odor of decomposition was the wrong one, so Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton showed him the correct one, which he confirmed he had initialed. Baez asked if the error was made because Vass worked in a research lab rather than a forensic one, and he acknowledged that his lab did not have frequent experience handling forensic evidence.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office crime scene investigator Gerardo Bloise was also recalled on Tuesday morning to identify photos of evidence he retrieved from the bag of trash that had been in Casey Anthony’s trunk. He testified that the trash did not smell the same as the car and he also stated that the pizza box in the bag was empty.

Bloise testified that he took the items from the trash bag and placed them in a dry room for two days when they were delivered to him on July 16, 2008. Baez questioned whether doing so had destroyed or altered any potentially significant evidence, but Bloise said it was standard protocol because dried items are generally more secure and in better condition for examination.

Bloise had also placed the paper towels he found in the trash in a plastic bag, which Baez suggested would be damaging to evidence to be tested for DNA. Bloise testified that he did not see any forensic value in the paper towels for DNA or bodily fluids at the time.

Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Forgey, a K-9 handler, told the jury about the training of cadaver dogs to detect human decomposition. He specifically talked about the work that is done to familiarize them with the scent of cadavers and to train them not to alert falsely on other odors. Prosecutor Linda Drane-Burdick began to question him about the certification of Gerus, one of the dogs used in the Anthony case, but they did not get into details about any relevant evidence before the lunch break.

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